Foundation Research Tools

Foundation Research Tools – I

Plan for a Series of Posts and Product Reviews

North America has a robust culture of foundation philanthropy. Canada and the USA both register  their charities and foundations with their federal  tax departments, and information from those returns is publicly available, but not in a form that is particularly convenient for finding suitable prospects for your cause.

Various services have arisen in both countries to make this material more accessible and useful but they have a wide range of costs and capacities and it is always a challenge to determine which is most suitable to your needs and budget.

In order to assist with this task,I will be publishing reviews of current resources for both the fundraiser and prospect researcher, first for our Canadian scene and then the American.  Comments and discussions are very welcome. Later I will follow with other areas of the world.

What is my history?

Full disclosure… For those of you that do not already know this , I came to this part of our fundraising world by way of an extended stint at one of the key vendors in this space, Metasoft Systems , who provide FoundationSearch and BIG Online  in both Canada and the US.

Before my time at Metasoft, I was involved in starting up several non-profit organizations, all of which are still operating successfully but finding funding sources was always a challenge.

Since mid 2011, I have been an independent service provider + observer/commentator of this scene. My opinions are my own and do not represent any particular vendor including my past employer.

I plan to start with a couple of posts looking at how the industry has developed up to now and then to look more deeply at each of the current products.

Next post will be about how things got started in Canada.



Foundation Research Tools – II

The Canadian Story :  Early Days

It all seems so long ago now!

In the mid-nineties, foundation (and corporate) information was to found in hefty tomes.  Sticky notes were your friend here as you flipped back and forth from index to profile. In Canada at that time, full research involved consulting not one but two big books on foundations. These were published by the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy. They offered one book for information about the foundations themselves and a separate one for the grants they gave out!

The Centre, then as now, was well respected and they were the last word on foundation funding in Canada. They also had no competition at that time.

Incidentally the Centre was set up as a registered charity in Canada and was modeled after the Foundation Center in the USA which is a 501C3 organization. While both sold their directories to charities and others, they were not and are not today businesses per se, and their directory sales these days might be deemed a social enterprise.

A new company had recently emerged in British Columbia which eventually moved to Prince Edward Island. This was Rainforest Publications. Founded by Cindy and Terry Burton, they began publishing an excellent hard copy resource The Directory of Corporate Giving in Canada in 1991. This volume along with Centre’s Directory on Foundations made a wining combo before digitization and the internet changed the scene dramatically.

Coincidentally,  shortly before Rainforest Publications released Prospect Research Online in 1996, another company had entered the market in BC.

Metasoft Systems had been around as a company since the mid-eighties but until the mid-nineties had nothing at all to do with the not-for-profit sector. Their main product was an image processing application aimed exclusively at corporate clients. But then they purchased…

In a short time, Metasoft was offering foundations, corporations, and government programs on floppy discs and it was all key word searchable! It was such a huge step from books that it seemed almost revolutionary at the time. Their earliest version, first sold in 1995 was very basic and only had government programs. By the end of 1996, they had produced the ‘Executive Version’ with…

Metasoft won the race to provide digitalized information with their floppy discs but Rainforest was the first to provide information on fundraising research online. So when Rainforest Publications released PRO, they may not have been quite the first to produce a computerized version of prospect research in Canada (Metasoft narrowly won that honour) but they bypassed floppy discs and CD ROMs entirely to release Canada’s first internet based resource.

The Canadian Centre for Philanthropy was now feeling the heat of competition for the first time.  Metasoft was ‘in their face’, adopting telephone sales to promote BIG. The Centre’s sales of its books dropped dramatically for the first time.

Metasoft quickly read the tea leaves and while initially reluctant to embrace the internet, they had their first website in the fall of 1997. was born. (There was still a CD ROM kicking around to placate clients when the site was nor fully functional.  But it was gone within the year and the entire product was now online.)

Not to be outdone, the Centre for Philanthropy also produced their own online version by the end of 1997.

Now Canadian researchers could choose between three internet based products…

This short time period was perhaps the very best for consumers of these products as three major players were determined to produce the best and most innovative product. Prices were not that high either and RP and Metasoft in particular remained in lock step with a $995.00 product.

Jumping ahead fifteen years, we are again in a very dynamic period of innovation. Some of the players have stayed the same, one has shifted focus and there is a ‘new kid on the block’.

…to be continued.


Foundation Research Tools – III

The Current Scene in Canada

Canadians are often sensitive to the question of whether a vendor is exclusively focused on Canada or whether they have followed the siren song of that huge market to the south, the USA.

PRO (Prospect Research Online) was marketed right away to Americans as well as Canadians and the company seems to have won a degree of market share down there over the years. As a business, Rainforest Publications went public as IWAVE in 1999 and then back to a private company in 2005.  Over time, their commitment to foundation research, particularly in Canada, has waned as they morphed into a compendium or re-distributor of 3rd party resources such as Zoom Info, Guidestar, HEP and others.

Most prospect researchers would now consider IWAVE’s PRO to be primarily a source of information on individuals rather than foundations.

The Canadian Centre for Philanthropy rebranded in 2004 as Imagine Canada which is how they are known today. They have continued to produce a modest but well respected online directory that is priced with the smaller organizations in mind. Their new release of Grants Connect may be a game changer, however.

Imagine Canada does far more than produce a directory. They are the major spokesperson for the charitable sector. When the government plans legislation that affects charities, Imagine Canada expects to be consulted. When they are not and they perceive that a correction is needed, they will publically advocate for the sector.

They have had new releases over the years but, until now, have never been real innovators. They are known for competent and reasonably current research. There is also a significant halo effect from their good works on behalf of an industry that is often misunderstood.

However, as I mentioned above, they have now released Grant Connect which promises to be a big jump ahead from their former directory. (Review to come)

Imagine Canada has been able to create a solid market niche as the charity vendor offering a very affordable alternative.

Their major competitor, Metasoft‘s product, is much bigger and much more expensive, so the market profile of each is somewhat distinct. I will also be reviewing the latest release from Metasoft early in the new year.

In the last year, a new vendor has emerged which is aiming to challenge both Metasoft and Imagine Canada.

Ajah‘s Fundtracker emerged on the scene in 2011 and was quickly spotted by fundraisers as an interesting addition to the mix.

For the first time, a resource emerged from Montreal and the founder Michael Leczner pulls on a both a non-profit background and a solid understanding of the importance of technology to smoothly manage large amounts of data.

Can this newcomer successfully challenge two long standing competitors, Imagine Canada and Metasoft?  In coming weeks I will be looking closely at all three based on my own experience but I am also eager to hear of your experiences, observations and opinions.

In January I will publish a review of each resource in turn – incorporating both my own judgement and any feedback I get from others.

And I am also planning webinars on the topics of  how to effectively use these tools, what features to look for, and how to make the best selection based on your own particular needs.

Stay tuned!




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